Street kids with world-class soccer flair

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Durban - When 14-year-old Siya Dlamini landed on the street after getting into trouble with the law, he never dreamt that one day he would be showing off his fancy footwork in front of his peers from around the world, writes Kemantha Govender.

South Africa will soon host football maestros such as Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but a group of unlikely football heroes charmed football lovers in KwaZulu-Natal.

While these stars may not grace the covers of Kick Off or Sports Illustrated like the soccer maestros they admire, they do share the love of soccer.

The eThekweni Municipality and Umthombo Street Children recently staged the Deloitte Street Children's World Cup.

Brazil, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Vietnam, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Philippines, Ukraine and India participated in the tournament.

Thirteen children, aged 14 to 16 represented South Africa, for the seven-a-side matches at the Durban University of Technology. The South African team has been in existence for more than seven years.

Dlamini, a defender for the team, was only too delighted to be a part of the World Cup. It was his chance, he says, to be like a "normal" person.

He believes that some day he could put on a Bafana Bafana jersey, but for now, being a member of the Umthombo team, will help him prove his worth as a soccer whiz.

"One day I want to be a good man," he says.

Vuyani Madolo coaches the Umthombo team and lived on the streets of East London for three years and his life experiences have come in handy.

Madolo was impressed by his side's performances and their courage. He was also overwhelmed with the support the team had received.

"It's just awesome. They finally have a chance to gain their identity. For the first time they get to be something other than children who live on the street," Madolo said.

Rogeria Sousa De Oliveira represented Brazil and although initially overwhelmed to be overseas for the first time, eventually fell for the charm of the warm South African hospitality.

For Oliveira this competition meant many things, but most importantly, it was the chance to see herself in a different light.

The Brazilians became good friends with the English team - and when the two sides had to battle it out on the field, England emerged as victors.

The avid Ronaldo fan said: "I am proud of myself and my team. We have learnt a lot in Africa and have made some strong connections. Too see our friends from other countries running around with our flag was amazing."

The competition has been endorsed by heavyweights in the football world and even local icon, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

"The Street Child World Cup demonstrates the tremendous potential of every single child, and especially street children, who are so often treated as less than human. I urge all governments to guarantee the rights of this most marginalised group of citizens to lives in which their promise is fulfilled," said Tutu.

Pop music icon, Sir Cliff Richard, who visited the Umthombo shelter in Durban, said while street children get written off, Umthombo is living proof that they deserve a second chance.

Richard, who has lent his support to Umthombo over the past couple of years, has urged people to look into projects like these so that they can make a difference.

The children received certificated training which will enable them to use football as a tool to convey social messages to their peers.

"All of the street child participants will be involved in programmes with the international partner organisations, which will support them in building secure long-term futures. We anticipate that this will mean most, if not all of them will have places to live - with families, foster families, or in other settings - during much of the preparation phase, and in the follow-up to the event," the organising committee explained.

The Street Children's World Cup is similar to the Homeless World Cup, which has been in existence since 2003, in that the events are used to draw attention to the plight of homeless people.

The Deloitte Street Children's World Cup however is a bit different,because the participants are 14-16 year olds.

"By enabling street children to get education, healthcare, and fair treatment, it's not just individual lives that are transformed, but the lives and futures of whole communities," said the organising committee.

They said the World Cup will focus on campaigning for better treatment for street children, first of all in participating countries, and then, through a process of demonstrating and celebrating positive initiatives, throughout the world.

According to tournament officials, the event is unlikely to become an annual fixture but rather follow the pattern of the FIFA World Cup, which takes place after four years.

"That means a process of training and support before, during and after the event, in order that they can become mentors, advocates, and sources of inspiration for their peers. This is one reason we won't be holding an event every year.

"Children who live on the streets are routinely abused and ignored. Football allows them rare moments to excel and to escape. We want to celebrate their passion for football," the organisers said.

For team South Africa defender, Nosipho Mabaso, 16, the tournament was her way of living and realising her dream. She is the only female on the team.

"It's good being the only girl here but it can be challenging. I am just so happy to be here. I love football. I have learnt so many things about my team and myself," she gushed.

The tournament has definitely boosted the children's confidence and for many validated their existence.

"I feel like a celebrity now. People notice us and want to talk to us," Nosipho beamed.

She wants to play for Banyana Banyana and rates South Africa's chances in the World Cup this June quite highly.

"There is no doubt that the World Cup will stay in South Africa. We will win it," she said.